Today Sean and I went to capture a wounded seagull who was hobbling around the hospital parking lot in Sydney. It was a back lot and not salted, so we slid after the bird while she ran from us, dragging a wing. At the veterinary hospital, I assisted in her examination and x-ray, as I recently did with the eagle, and we discovered that her wing joint was shattered. There was nothing anyone could do to help her to heal and live a normal life. So I assisted again while Dr. Nicholson euthanized her. It was perhaps the saddest experience I've had thus far as a wildlife rescuer; chasing a strong, but injured bird and later feeling her heart slow and stop under my hands.
Euthanasia is the fate of many injured seagulls1. Wing-strikes are especially bad, since the wing joint usually takes the brunt of a blow. I learned today that the fine bones there are too small to plate or pin, which means there isn't any way for the bird to completely heal. And while it might seem better to keep an otherwise healthy bird in captivity rather than to take its life, adult seagulls acclimate so poorly to captivity that it's cruel to keep them. Finally, leaving an injured bird on the ground to fend for itself, especially in winter, means one of two things: a long, slow death by starvation, or a brutal death in the jaws of a predator. I love predators too, but the animal I'm always concerned with is the one in front of me.
I wonder about the longevity of birds in places without windows to confuse them and cars to come at them suddenly. It seems a strange, sad cycle to me that they should be injured by something they don't understand only to come into my care and die in a way can't comprehend. And while euthanasia truly is better than the alternative, I sometimes feel we are too much in their way altogether.
- 1. Though certainly not the fate of all seagulls and not even every seagull with a wing injury. Mid-bone breaks can be pinned if they haven't breached the skin.